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The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was founded in 1946 as the successor to the famed MIT Radiation Laboratory (RadLab) of World War II. During the war, large scale research at the RadLab was devoted to the rapid development of microwave radar. Projects included physical electronics, microwave physics, electromagnetic properties of matter, and microwave communication principles. The "RadLab" designed almost half of the radar deployed in World War II, created over 100 different radar systems, and constructed $1.5 billion worth of radar.
At the height of its activities, the RadLab employed nearly 4,000 people working on several continents. What began as a British-American effort to make microwave radar work, evolved into a centralized laboratory committed to understanding the theories behind experimental radar while solving its engineering problems. The RadLab formally closed on December 31, 1945, and its staff members resumed their peacetime activities. In its wake remained tons of surplus equipment and the concept for a basic research center that was to continue in RLE.
On January 1, 1946, under the sponsorship of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, the RadLab's Basic Research Division continued work at MIT as a transitional organization. Under the leadership of Director Julius A. Stratton and Associate Director Albert G. Hill, it continued investigation on problems in physical electronics that involved cathodes, electronic emission, and gaseous conduction. In microwave physics, the electromagnetic properties of matter at microwave frequencies were studied. Modern techniques were applied to both physics and engineering research, and in microwave communications, engineering applications were emphasized. On July 1, 1946, the Basic Research Division was finally incorporated in to the new Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT.
The Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT was the first of the Institute’s great modern interdepartmental academic research centers. Today, we are one of MIT's largest such organizations, and the most diverse research laboratory at MIT in our scope of intellectual interests.
Research in RLE encompasses an extensive range of natural and man-made phenomena, and our projects are both basic and applied. Common among all RLE efforts is an expansive 21st century interpretation of the 20th century term “electronics,” starting at the most basic physical realm of particles and quantum physics and extending all the way to sophisticated engineering application technologies relevant to today and critical to tomorrow.
Seven Major Themes
Research in RLE today is focused on seven major themes:
- Atomic Physics
- Circuits, Systems, Signals and Communications
- Quantum Computation and Communication
- Energy, Power and Electromagnetics
- Photonic Materials Devices and Systems
- Nanoscale Science and Engineering
- Multiscale Bioengineering and Biophysics
A Nexus of Interdisciplinary Activities
Seventy-two principal investigators in RLE—of whom sixty-four are members of the MIT faculty—direct the Laboratory's research projects. Our professors reflect the Laboratory’s diverse scope of intellectual interests, and are drawn from nine MIT academic departments and divisions:
- Biological Engineering Division
- Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Department of Materials Science and Engineering
- Department of Mathematics
- Department of Mechanical Engineering
- Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering
- Department of Physics
- Engineering Systems Division
- Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology
Over three hundred MIT graduate and undergraduate students—also drawn from the MIT departments and divisions above—make RLE one of the primary environments for student learning at MIT. In fact, it is this combination of forefront research with student participation across multiple academic disciplines that characterize the RLE culture.